You probably have heard that "All GOOD things must come to an end…
to make way for BETTER things to happen because the BEST is yet to come". The poet Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with penning this proverb in 1374. I am not sure that all would agree with this thought, particularly just after placing a loved one in the ground, unless perhaps escaping an abusive relationship. Yet, I believe that only God and His word are eternal. All else must come to an end: relationships; life; jobs or careers; and sadly today even safety and security. We have losses of life, investments, friendships, health and things of all kinds. The poet had truth to bring us in the positive perspective that the end of one thing brings the opportunity for the beginning of another. A friend and radio host of River West in Milwaukee recently spoke these words as we conversed on his show, “Just Talk’n.” The contents of the show are available on this link: https://soundcloud.com/user-409984402/17-00-00-just-talking-5.
Yes, the end of all things does come in life and in death. Are you ready? Or in “naïve innocence” are you not prepared for a particular loss? Sadly today we live in a society where children need to grow up very fast to cultural issues that would never have affected us perhaps a generation of two ago. I’m thinking of coping with same-sex bathrooms and moral decay more than economics. I’m thinking of kids not having moral absolutes taught in a relativistic society. There is a right and wrong and not all ideas or beliefs are equal. They may be protected under 1st Amendment rights, but that does not make them good. The Apostle Paul said of life for a Christian, “Everything is permissible-but not all things are beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23). The end of safety and innocence comes in many forms. How about terrorism and increasing crime of all kinds?
When we lose something or particularly someone near and dear to us we will grieve. There is shock and anger; a process of mourning is set in place. It varies for us all, but there are steps to grief. Initially we may feel, loss of control, helplessness, heightened emotions, loneliness or abandonment, vulnerability, guilt, self-blame or even fear. Grief is a body, mind and spirit overwhelm. Our bodies may suffer physical as well as emotional and spiritual pain. We may have sleeplessness and tears. Appetite may go out the window while alcohol or drugs might look inviting. Indigestion, or high blood pressure from anxiety is common. Intensity of feelings can bring vomiting and diarrhea, while our immunities are lowered. It is not uncommon for people to seek professional medical and/or counseling help in times of loss. Having officiated at nearly 200 funerals I can attest to that.
I had the privilege of leading a program for the bereaved called Griefshare. We discussed the many overwhelming aspects of grief. The program motto was, ‘Turning mourning into joy.” The intensity of grief caused some to angrily react to the thought that they would ever be joyful again. Yet over the weeks the loved one’s memories became reframed or redefined, bringing a sense of peace in the storm for most participants. This is a process that is not linear and bounces between stages of grief. These stages may include: shock, anger, recognition, withdrawal, bargaining, healing/turning point, reinvestment, renewal, redefinition of loss and work on grief. This process may be complicated by other and secondary losses or collective and community grief that is experienced more broadly. Loss in non-traditional relationships and/or suicide can bring further complications.
When facing death issues of reconciliation, purpose and legacy are important. Working through or acknowledging these can contribute to a better experience or “good death.” Letting go by the one dying and their family is important. The concept of “generativity” or leaving a worthwhile legacy is important for posterity and good grieving. Affirmation of the life of the loved one helps bring closure. As a chaplain I can play an important role here by helping bring such sacred things if possible. Life review, reminiscing and story telling are important at time of death to bring conclusion to life in as orderly and thoughtful a way as possible. Families are complex and long-term issues are sadly not always resolved before death.
God allows death and loss and uses it for our good and His glory if we trust in Him. Scripture says, “Fear not” and “I will never leave or forsake you.” These promises help bring hope to our faith. Faith can be an anchor in a storm of difficult emotions. God allows suffering and you share in it. “You are dust, and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19). However, a strong faith in God through His Son Jesus Christ brings the assurance of eternal life and heaven for a believer. This brings hope to those who remain.
As a chaplain I have had the privilege of attending the deaths of hundreds of people. Although there may be physical pain, which medicine can help control, there may be emotional and spiritual issues. I have personally witnessed that those with faith tend to die peacefully and those without it do not generally. I don’t know if visions of the afterlife begin to appear that affect the emotions or not. I have witnessed spoken visions that are both beautiful and frightening depending on faith issues. I have also experienced the presence of spirits and angels with the dying. I believe these are real and not psychological as people are transitioning from this plane into the next. Scripture assures that we are absent from the body and present with the Lord immediately at death. Our eventual destination is a choice in the Christian faith.
Today many want to die naturally, without medical intervention such as ventilators or feeding tubes. The right to die or autonomy is ethically very important in western society. Writing an Advance Directive and naming a Power of Attorney for your health care decisions is vital in this. Choosing someone who clearly understands your desires on resuscitation and extraordinary care questions in advance will prevent pain, and unnecessary agony at time of dying and death.
For caregivers it is important to take care of yourself. Compassion fatigue is real. All caregivers can give spiritual support through prayer, compassion, encouragement and presence. Get rest and find support for yourself.
Trials in life help build resilience and strength for the journey. Scripture says in the book of James that they build perseverance, which must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. God is faithful and will give us what we need to stand up under any loss if we trust in Him. Failing that, we might be blown around like a wave in the wind. I chose to be grounded in Scripture and prayer and surround myself with other godly people to help in times of need.